Otto Lang, pioneer skier and film-maker

Passing Date: 
Monday, January 30, 2006

Otto Lang died January 30, 2006 at age 98.

Born in Zenica, Bosnia in 1908, Otto was educated and learned to ski in Salzburg, then taught skiing at Semmering near Vienna. In 1929 he was hired by Hannes Schneider to work in the St. Anton Ski School. In 1935 Schneider delegated Otto to travel to New Hampshire to teach skiing at Peckett's Sugar Hill Inn.

In the spring of 1936 Otto traveled with Jerome Hill to Mt. Rainier to help make the instructional film Ski Flight (the movie premiered two years later at Radio City Music Hall.) Later that year he opened the first official North American branch of the Hannes Schneider Ski School, on Mt. Rainier, and followed that in the winter of 1937-38 with two more Schneider schools at Mt. Baker and Mt. Hood (one of his students was Gretchen Kunigk, who would grow up to be Olympic champion Gretchen Fraser). He married Sinclair Gannon; they had two sons, Peter and Mark.

In late 1939, Otto joined the Sun Valley Ski School and was made director following the departure of Friedl Pfeiffer. There he met Hollywood producer Darryl Zanuck, who asked him to direct the action sequences for the movie Sun Valley Serenade. That led to a job as an assistant director at Twentieth Century Fox. During WWII he directed a training film for the 10th Mountain Division. He thereafter directed and produced dozens of films and TV shows, shooting all over the world. Highlights included producing the Golden Globe winner Five Fingers and the blockbuster Tora! Tora! Tora!

After retiring, Otto became an award-winning still photographer. He lived in West Seattle with his long-time companion June Campbell.

Otto published his autobiography, Bird of Passage, in 1994.

Otto skied, and directed, and lived his life, with grace and generosity. He taught us all. --Seth Masia

The black-and-white photo at the top of this page, and most pages on this site, shows Otto skiing Sun Valley in 1939.


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